Food Ain’t God
Food isn’t God.
I’ve long been disturbed by the tendency of some religious people to turn food into religion and preach “food isn’t God” with the meaning that if you are less than svelte you clearly are worshiping food and less of a Christian than your skinny sister.
But I am still working on my lingering unrealistic expectations for food. You see, I was raised in the religion that follows the teachings of the prophet Hippocrates. You know, the one with the bible that says things like: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
For years I internalized the idea that one could control one’s life by controlling one’s food choices. I accepted as gospel truth the teaching that disease was the fitting penalty for poor diet. I knew that if I got the flu it was my fault for eating white flour. Every headache was my just desert for eating dessert.
And then I grew up.
I gained the cynicism of a skeptic and questioned the faith of Food.
And, oddly enough, it seemed that my beliefs were justified. The stats held up the idea that Americans are making ourselves sick with downright stupid food choices. If only we would eat more vegetables and less meat we would chop healthcare costs and grow life expectancy.
But stats aren’t everything, and food isn’t God.
No matter how hard I try, I cannot determine my fate through food. I cannot heal myself by eliminating tomatoes, wheat and caffeine. I cannot free myself from pain by eating elderberries and salmon. Sure, I can make things a little better with vitamin powder etc., but “better” is not the same as healed.
This is the truth, but somehow I cannot really accept it. My sickness feels like failure because I know if only I got food right, I would be healthy.
Sure, I am enough of a pragmatist to realize that I gain more by reducing stress. I know that it is better to eat canned beans than to spend my days obsessing over which grains I should completely eliminate, and which seeds I should soak.
I know this.
But I still feel the guilt of the prodigal child.
Because as much as I rationally know that food isn’t God, the religion remains a part of me.
People all around me are embracing it as the hip faith of the moment. They are thrilled to lose a few pounds and gain some energy, and I am happy for them. But I am envious of their innocent faith. They can truly believe that all they have to do is follow a few simple rules and they will be healthy.
Somehow though, the rules were never simple for me, and I have never been able to get.it.right.
Rationally I know that this is because food isn’t God. Food choices matter, but they aren’t everything.
But deep down inside me I cannot help believing that my body is punishing me for failing to dig deep enough to find and follow the mysterious food rules that would bring health. So I add cod liver oil, because maybe they were right that flax just isn’t good enough. And I determine to stop drinking soy milk because maybe, just maybe it is the problem even though all evidence points against that conclusion.
Food isn’t God.
I know that.
I just can’t believe it.
- Adele and the Married Woman
- Physical Food Budgeting
I really appreciate this post, it really is true that people blame health problems on food and think that a “proper diet” can fix anything. Sometimes a proper diet helps, sometimes it’s completely unrelated. My dad have fibromyalgia and eliminating certain foods seems to help, but definitely does not eliminate the problem (exercise does as well, but in the scheme of things the relief is miniscule compared to the overall pain the feels!).
Does altering your diet help at all?
I’m glad you wrote this. I can see how easily food can become God. My sister has recently discovered she has Celiac’s disease and is eliminating gluten from everything because her digestive tract is in poor shape from her allergy. And there’s a part of me that wants to know if perhaps I would be healthier if I, too, would go through the process of evaluating everything I eat and the hassle of changing up all my family’s diet. But…I’m glad I read this because I need to remember that food is not God.
I am sorry that you are so sick. I’m glad you know in your brain anyway, but I can see where it would be hard to get it out of your heart. Continued prayers for you. I really dislike when my friends are sick or in pain.
It’s so interesting that you write this because I have the same sort of conversations with some of my family members. I think the main issue is one of control vs faith. Someone who touts food choices as the Answer is trying to control what happens to them. They are not allowing for God, for illness, for genetics, for any of the hundreds of other factors that come into play. The idea that there is a “perfect” diet which will eliminate all health problems is a completely fallacy. Disease and illness are a part of our world. What food can do is create within us the best defense against illness that God has designed. The wrong food will hurt us, but there is no absolute “right” food that can cure everyone.
That being said, if some among us feel called to try different diets in an attempt to cure their ills, I applaud that. I certainly see no difference between going off wheat and taking Paxil. Both are attempts to fight illness. If the Paxil doesn’t work and one switches to Zoloft, or the wheat doesn’t work and we eliminate dairy instead, that’s simply trying another approach and not, in my opinion, searching for a God in food.
What you said about disease being the just desserts of a poor diet really resonates with me. We have to be so careful not to judge or cast blame when we are attempting to find solutions. Sometimes, as you uniquely communicate, there are no answers. Sometimes, we are simply not in control.
As we are trying to determine the “next steps”, this is a very timely thing to read. Trying to find the balance between medications, diet, and letting God’s will be done. It feels like I’m looking at a 5000 piece double sided puzzle with no edge pieces sometimes.
And to think, there are people who walk around every day eating whatever they want, having babies whenever they want, and don’t even know what PMS cramps feel like. Can you imagine?
Oh, and on an unrelated note, you apparently need to tone it down around here a little bit because our filters at work blocked you for “inappropriate sexual content.” Hehe
Forgot to subscribe to comments – doh!
I think this is really interesting as this is a belief that I do subscribe to most of the time. I know that if I do eat too much sugar or dairy or any gluten them I feel terrible. However, I think I’m slowly coming to the realization that my diet alone can’t heal me. I think it prevents me from being healed or from being healthy if I eat things I know that I react to, but there are to many other contributing factors than just what we ingest that contribute to out overall health. I think sometimes we like to subscribe to simplistic beliefs in hopes that it well be true and things will be solved easily. Alas, if life were that easy!
I can relate to a great extent. I have Crohn’s disease and for years tried to cure myself by eating right. At the end of the day, reducing stress goes so much further than eliminating sugars or soaking grains. But even reducing stress doesn’t fix everything. I’ve finally found peace about it through the Catholic theology of suffering. If it weren’t Crohn’s it would be something else. My disease helps me grow spiritually (something I noticed before hearing of a theology of suffering). And it creates opportunities to pray and suffer for others that I would not otherwise have. What’s difficult is that I’m still surrounded by people who think if I just ate better I could be well. It doesn’t come up as much as it used to, but it does occasionally come up. FWIW, I’ve been doing really well lately and I think the physical thing that’s made the most difference has been certain high-power probiotics. I saw a huge benefit even w/o eliminating sugar. To me, this confirms that it’s not that much about what I eat.
Along with other commenters, I also found this to be a particularly fascinating post. I want to hear more, though. What is the relationship of homeschooling, religion and healthy eating (however they might choose to define “healthy”), in your view? Why do these seem to go together so often?
I had not encountered this until recently and even without speaking explicitly about it, someone I know seems to be extremely (excessively?) preoccupied with the effort to stay healthy and thin. It takes up a lot of her time. A LOT of time. And frankly, young parents don’t have a lot of time, so to me it seems like a bit of a silly method of prioritization (because I tend to be more preoccupied with time rather than diet, ha ha). I can tell that it is much more serious, however, and her childhood conditionning is such that moving away from this sort of thinking and behaving is almost impossible.
I’m rambling. Basically: I want to hear more.
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